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Game elements fixed in particular locations in Game Worlds that allow actions or events not possible elsewhere.

While players typically have access to a certain set of actions besides moving while exploring game worlds, the items that can be found within the worlds can provide additional actions. Controllers are items that do this but cannot be moved, thereby forcing players to be at specific positions in order to be able to use these actions.


First-person shooters, such as the Doom or Quake series, often have doors that have to be opened through activating Controllers. Abstract Controllers can be found in Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory as players can construct bridges, command centers, and towers in certain places.

Mounted weapons found in Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the Left 4 Dead series, and the Battlefield series are all examples of Controllers that provide players with increased firepower at specific locations. The cannons in Super Mario 64 are also Controllers, but in this case have the more peaceful ability to allow Mario reach areas otherwise inaccessible by shooting himself from them.

Using the pattern

Two main types of Controllers exist: Switches that set events in motion when activated and Installations that provide players with New or Improved Abilities. Examples of effects started by Switches include opening Conditional Passageways, finishing Levels, or initiating Quick Travel. Switches may also affect Environmental Effects if their geographical spread are fixed, otherwise affecting them are more probably abilities and affected through Installations. Both types of Controllers can affect Moveable Tiles, but Switches are of limited usefulness to control their Movement rather than just start and stop it.

Controllers do not have to be tangible game elements and those that are not represents a third type of Controllers. They can be areas where the Construction or destruction of game elements are possible, and one examples of this are the boxes of construction material in Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory which can be assembled to specific game elements, such as bridges or bases.

Several options of available for all types of Controllers: which Units or Avatars can use them, are specific Skills or Tools are needed to use them, and are Resources are consumed by using them. Further, using them can require Extended Actions (e.g. requiring the constant activation of a player), and the effects they cause can be both Ultra-Powerful Events (for example when activating Moveable Tiles) and Irreversible Events.

Diegetic Aspects

As Controllers are often presented as large machines or systems, or the control panels for these, they can affect parts of a Game Board, Game World, or Level out of the usual reach of Units or Avatars without breaking Thematic Consistency.

Interface Aspects

Some Controllers, especially Installations, may switch players' interfaces to better help support the activities and actions they provide. This may be changing HUD Interfaces or switching from First-Person Views to Third-Person Views or vice versa. Examples of both of these possibilities exist in the Battlefield series. Half-Life 2 does the same, and has a magnetic crane which provides a different view point for players since the scale it works on is different from the normal one in the game.

Narrative Aspects

Compared to Tools, Controllers (and especially Switches) let game designers structure where and when players can perform actions which functionally for them are New Abilities. This can be used to progress Predetermined Story Structures and when Controllers are used in this way their effects are typically both Irreversible Events and Ultra-Powerful Events. One example of this is that the activation of Controllers can often be the completion of goals, Quests, or Levels.


Controllers gives players or Teams access to New Abilities, quite often Privileged Abilities, when their Units or Avatars are near them. They are natural Strategic Locations in Game Worlds and Levels since having access to their Location-Fixed Abilities may require Area Control and this can spawn goals of Gain Ownership. Controllers that are Resource Generators provide a way to have Renewable Resources in games and create Resource Locations.

While providing New Abilities can make Controllers give players Exaggerated Perception of Influence and a greater Freedom of Choice, both these patterns most clearly materialize when the Controllers are used to make Quests be completed.

As mentioned above, Controllers can depending on their design modulate Alarms, Environmental Effects, Conditional Passageways, Levels, or Quick Travel.


Can Instantiate

Area Control, Construction, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Freedom of Choice, Gain Ownership, Improved Abilities, Irreversible Events, Location-Fixed Abilities, New Abilities, Predetermined Story Structures, Privileged Abilities, Strategic Locations, Thematic Consistency, Ultra-Powerful Events

with Resource Generators

Renewable Resources, Resource Locations

Can Modulate

Alarms, Avatars, Conditional Passageways, Environmental Effects, Game Boards, Game Worlds, HUD Interfaces, Levels, Moveable Tiles, Quests, Quick Travel, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Installations, Switches

Can Be Modulated By

Extended Actions, Resource Generators, Resources, Skills, Tools

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Controllers that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.